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Local News

Montecito Association Holds Closed-Door Meeting to Press Caltrans on Highway 101

Carbajal, Schneider and Francisco attend discussion focused on keeping left-side ramps at Cabrillo Boulevard, Sheffield Drive

Members of the Montecito Association and the Common Sense 101 Coalition held a meeting with a phalanx of public and elected officials Friday morning in an effort to push forward their vision for a three-mile stretch of Highway 101 through Montecito.

Jack Overall and Ron Pulice, leaders of the “community alternative” plan for Caltrans’ Highway 101 carpool lane project between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, told Noozhawk that they have been pursuing the meeting for months. It was held in the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors' conference room, on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building.

At the meeting were representatives from Caltrans, including a traffic engineer and District 5 director Tim Gubbins; Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilman Dale Francisco; Santa Barbara assistant city administrator Paul Casey; First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal; and members of the Montecito Association/Common Sense 101 Coalition.

Also at the meeting was Jeremy Lindaman, a political consultant for Schneider and the coalition, who informed a waiting Noozhawk reporter that the session was "closed."

The whole Highway 101 project is taxpayer-funded, including voter-approved Measure A money and local state gas-tax funds, and is expected to cost between $345 million and $455 million.

Caltrans plans to add a third, carpool lane to both directions of Highway 101 and modify the Cabrillo Boulevard and Sheffield Drive interchanges to eliminate the left-side entrance and exit ramps. It would also close the southbound Los Patos Way exit at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.

Friday’s meeting was called after Carbajal asked Caltrans to postpone its imminent recommendation on moving forward with the project, pending a meeting with the Montecito Association. Pulice told Noozhawk on Wednesday that the Montecito group feels it hasn’t met with Caltrans to discuss accident and traffic data for the left-side ramps.

Pulice has said the coalition wants to keep the ramps and cut down on the project’s total costs and construction time, but Caltrans has said left-side ramps are inherently more dangerous for drivers.

Caltrans District 5 public information officer Jim Shivers said the department will keep working with stakeholders on the project.

"Our project team and management have proceeded with great care in attempting to move this project forward," he said Friday evening. "We have listened and will continue to participate in a dialogue that will result in a project that will improve mobility and ease congestion in this corridor."

Francisco’s impression was that, after the Montecito Association presented its data on left-side ramps, Caltrans said safety wasn’t the only issue to consider with them.

“I think a lot of people in the room were flabbergasted because we were under the impression from them that that was the issue,” he said. “Things got a little heated, I think."

The Montecito Association has maintained that the accident rates for the left-side ramps at Sheffield Drive and Cabrillo Boulevard are lower than the state average, and should be allowed to remain.

Schneider and the city’s Planning Commission have asked Caltrans to consider including a roundabout at Olive Mill and Coast Village roads in the project, as well as widening the Union Pacific Railroad bridge over Cabrillo Boulevard. Neither of those issues was discussed Friday, Francisco said.

“If Caltrans is totally unresponsive to the Montecito Association and the city, I see real problems ahead, and I hope they aren’t,” he said. “I hope they do something rational.”

Schneider said the meeting lasted about 90 minutes.

“Unfortunately, it was disappointing to see that Caltrans did not follow through on what they promised to do over the summer, which was to work with the Montecito Association and analyze all the accident data at both intersections,” she said in an email to Noozhawk.

“They claimed they were at this meeting to 'just listen.' This is not what was agreed to at the July meeting in Sacramento with Secretary of Transportation Brian Kelly.”

That summer meeting was one of many between Montecito Association and coalition members and state transportation representatives. Schneider attended the July meeting, as well.

Caltrans wants to move forward with the support of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, of which Carbajal and Schneider are representatives.

SBCAG has directed Caltrans to evaluate the coalition’s alternative plan, which was mostly paid for by SBCAG at a cost of $175,000. The coalition wants Caltrans to add the third lane on the outside of the highway, which the agency says would cut into private property and the railroad’s right-of-way.

Coalition members also want to keep the left-side ramps, for what they describe as community character and cost savings. SBCAG’s board voted in May to have Caltrans include the alternative plan in the environmental documents as an alternative, although Caltrans said at the time it would be included but noted as a nonviable alternative.

If anything prompted significant changes to the environmental impact report, SBCAG told Caltrans to re-circulate it.

At the meeting, Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty said it’s the agency’s policy to systematically eliminate left-side ramps, and not doing so could expose the state to major liability.

“It’s not viable, appropriate or responsible to retain the left-side ramps at this location,” he said at the time.

Since then, stakeholders have been waiting on Caltrans for a recommendation on how to move forward. The Goleta Valley and Santa Barbara Region chambers of commerce, which support the project as is, recently traveled to Sacramento to press their case on behalf of the 80,000 employees they represent. About 15,000 people commute to the Santa Barbara area from Ventura County every weekday.

In addition, a Montecito businesswoman last week delivered to Gov. Jerry Brown a 1,400-signature petition opposing the Montecito Association proposal and requesting that the project continue as proposed in the existing environmental impact report.

“This saga will continue,” Francisco said Friday.

Pulice said the coalition will be making some sort of statement next week. Carbajal did not return Noozhawk's calls for comment Friday afternoon.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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